Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
Any Grand Tour is an immense challenge and the 2014 Giro d’Italia was always going to be just that.
But a challenge also presents an opportunity – for myself and Orica-GreenEDGE, it meant a chance to push the limits of our previous Giro success.
Heading into the race, the team was determined to put our strengths to the test. It is great to say we were able to keep ourselves in the mix for such a significant portion of the race. This is a real testament to how well placed we are as a group.
The race started off with a bang as we found ourselves in the hot seat on day one. As the second team to ride the team time trial, we were sitting there biting our nails, waiting for the other teams to make a move. As it played out, we were able to hold on and sneak Svein Tuft over the line in first place.
Being able to put Svein in the pink jersey on his 37th birthday was a special experience and a personal highlight of the tour. He’s a great character and someone who has always been willing to do his job for the team.
Victory on the first stage was a great example of everyone doing their bit for the good of the team. In cycling, some days it can be hard to quantify your contribution to the win, as there can only ever be one winner, but it takes nine riders to get a victory. It is an important mentality to share within a team, and one that Orica-GreenEDGE prides itself on.
Our early success carried on after we found ourselves in pink, and the team was able to gain some strong momentum, with Michael Matthews taking the jersey and then claiming a stage win on a mountain against Cadel Evans.
I grew up riding next to Michael in the under-23 program, so have always known what he was capable of. It was a pleasure to play a first-hand role in helping him achieve a significant victory and live up to his promise.
The elation experienced in the early stages was unfortunately met by pain and misfortune in the second half of the tour. Flu hit some of the team following Stage 8 and I was not spared. This left me without much of an appetite – a perilous position to be in heading into a mountain day.
When we hit the first climb the following day I could not keep the pace and found myself forced out the back of the peloton – one of my worst fears became a reality. With 50 kilometres to go, and time not on my side, I knew I was going to just have to put my head down and suffer. I don’t have any memory of the final kilometres of that stage. Luckily Michael Matthews and Michael Hepburn were able to drop back and help me make time.
That was a day of polar opposites; while I was battling away down the back, Pieter Weening went on the claim the stage. You could say Stage 9 provided a good example of the personal battles a race like this can throw up.
Despite the flu, it felt like nothing much could go wrong for the team. We were claiming stages and were well positioned for the second half of the race. From that point on, however, things fell apart pretty quickly.
Brett Lancaster broke his hand, Cameron Meyer came down with severe fever and Michael Matthews’ back flared up.
The reality of losing numbers hit hard as we entered the time trial. Heading down the descent my front wheel washed out and I hit the road hard, breaking my collarbone.
My injury was followed by more fever, this time striking down Pieter Weening, Mitch Docker and Ivan Santaromita. The wheels were well off now and the team’s Giro dreams were dashed.
It’s funny to think that Orica-GreenEDGE’s most successful Giro was marred by the loss of so many riders. But the preference will always be to experience success and be a part of the race rather than ensure that nine guys cross the line on the final day.
For me the next big focus is the Tour de France. I have come through surgery strongly and will have plenty of time to hit the road before the race. Despite the setback, it is an exciting time to be a part of the Orica-GreenEDGE team, and we expect to carry our Giro success across the border into France.